Robert Abela has no intention of taking serious action over the public inquiry report. How could he? As a member of Joseph Muscat’s cabinet, he’s in it up to his neck.
“Now that the country has had time to read the report,” he said, “attention must be focused on working diligently on reforms.”
So where does he propose to start?
Not by passing more paper laws that no one in power intends to enforce. There are plenty of those on the books already, and he can’t legislate willingness. Not by insisting his police commissioner get busy prosecuting ‘allegedly’ corrupt politicians, either — or be replaced by someone who will.
No, Abela has decided to start with journalism.
I suppose that makes sense. Journalists have been Labour’s biggest problem. Not the pukers of poorly planned propaganda, of course. Party hacks and tainted stooges like Simon Mercieca and Saviour Balzan are exactly what this government wants in a ‘free’ press.
But ‘sorting out’ the press won’t save this sinking ship. Neither will apologies and platitudes.
The nation made the mistake of moving on without accountability once before, but the violence of the 1980s couldn’t be swept under a rug or shaken off like a bad dream. Avoiding the necessary reckoning only brought it back in another form: one that’s shorter, balder, and even more shameless.
That State “created an atmosphere of impunity, generated from the highest levels in the heart of the administration of the Office of the Prime Minister and like an octopus spread to other entities like regulatory institutions and the police, leading to the collapse of the rule of law,” the inquiry report states.
The police can round up every low level money launderer in Malta to appease the FATF, but all the statistics in the world won’t hide the fact that Joseph Muscat and his inner circle remain untouchable. Even Keith Schembri is only being prosecuted for the least of his alleged crimes: a sordid kickback scheme for printing machinery for Allied Newspapers that he was involved in prior to the 2013 election.
If Abela really wants to restore the rule of law rather than further hinder it, he can start by removing every single head of anything who was appointed by and answerable to Joseph Muscat.
The inquiry’s report said the “lethargic lack of activity from the institutions is inexplicable and censurable; not only was there a lack of investigation of serious allegations of breaches of criminal laws, but there was also no investigation of allegations of illicit public administration. This cannot be simply explained by incompetence or indifference”.
Former head of the economic crimes unit Ian Abdilla has been suspended, but we’ve seen suspensions and “self-suspensions” (on full pay) many times before.
Infinite suspension without resolution is like the endless magisterial inquiries that placed Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and so many politicians in a grey area between guilt and innocence, forever “waiting for the outcome” that was never intended to arrive.
An internal investigation about Abdilla’s on-the-job performance followed by dismissal isn’t enough. Rather than investigate Schembri, Mizzi, Adrian Hillman, and Pilatus Bank, he sat on damning FIAU reports, ensuring they went nowhere. He also met with Schembri to discuss the confidential FIAU report that implicated the chief of staff in money laundering.
No one would be discussing impunity or calling Malta a mafia state if Ian Abdilla had done his job. His deliberate inaction enabled the increasingly frantic descent into corruption that culminated — but has not ended — with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Abdilla, Silvio Valletta, and Lawrence Cutajar enabled crime rather than prosecuting and preventing it. They must be held accountable. But the buck doesn’t stop with the police. The prosecution has its own culpability to answer for.
Former Attorney General Peter Grech didn’t just conspicuously avoid doing the duty he’d sworn to do. He abetted crime by looking away so many times it must have permanently kinked his neck.
Grech’s replacement, Victoria Buttigieg, is also untenable. She facilitated the signing of the Electrogas agreement without parliamentary approval, thus enabling Mizzi, Schembri, Fenech and friends to bypass scrutiny of the power station deal that continues to rob taxpayers of public funds.
Grech should be investigated and prosecuted, and Buttigieg should be replaced rather than rewarded with a public post.
And that’s just the police who acted in Joseph Muscat’s interests rather than the people’s. We haven’t even started on the all-star Cabinet the public inquiry deemed “collectively responsible” for Caruana Galizia’s death, and for the collapse of the rule of law.
Does Robert Abela seriously think Malta will stop being a European pariah without dealing with that mess? The structural rot has gone so deep that the entire edifice needs to be replaced before it crushes every citizen beneath a total collapse.
Abela claims the government he’s leading is altogether different from the one he inherited in January 2020. I suggest he get a new pair of spectacles.
Barring the glaring absence of Muscat, Mizzi and Chris Cardona, it’s the same cast of crummy characters still grubbing off the public purse. It’s not like they’re wearing false moustaches. They were just shuffled around into different roles.
Abela doesn’t need to wait for a criminal investigation to purge the thoroughly tainted politicians from his party. Edward Zammit Lewis is the obvious place to start.
This incompetent buffoon is supposed to be justice minister, tasked with carrying out the reforms the public inquiry listed in its conclusion, as well as the laundry list of changes needed to get Malta off the global anti-money laundering grey list. You know, the grey list that isolated the pariah State which wouldn’t do anything when top politicians were caught opening offshore kickback structures — not even when those structures were linked to Electrogas via Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black.
It isn’t just that Zammit Lewis is unfit for this job, in over his head even worse than he was when he bungled Air Malta. The Ġaħan-mocking defender of 17 Black was so busy sucking up to Fenech and whining about how unappreciated he is that he destroyed any shred of credibility he could have had for acting in the people’s interest rather than the criminals.
If Abela defends Zammit Lewis, then how does he expect anyone to believe anything he says about learning the lessons of the past? What’s next? Will the prime minister parrot Joseph Muscat’s line that the upcoming election will absolve him and his cronies if voters endorse corruption?
Unfortunately for Abela, the bumbling clown with the justice portfolio is far from the only one who won’t let go of his desk.
Anglu Farrugia, the pliant Speaker of the House, whose most recent deed was to block an Opposition motion for a parliamentary sitting to discuss a motion of no confidence in the compromised justice minister, must also be removed.
Carmelo Abela has been implicated in a bank robbery by career criminals and a State’s witness. If his earlier scandals weren’t enough to put an end to his career, that fact certainly should have.
The unrepentant Glenn Bedingfield was singled out in the inquiry’s report for his role in orchestrating the “sustained campaign of personal attacks, hate, incidents of verbal abuse” which served to isolate the journalist before she was killed.
Bedingfield has also served as a bloated roadblock in the Public Accounts Committee’s attempts to get to the bottom of the Electrogas deal Caruana Galizia was investigating when she was silenced. This close personal friend of The Kink’s position is completely untenable. He has no place in parliament.
Rosianne Cutajar took money from accused murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech, among other things. Why is she still an MP?
As a former member of Muscat’s cabinet, President George Vella’s position is also untenable. The same can be said of Evarist Bartolo, Ian Borg, Michael Falzon, Jose Herrera, Owen Bonnici, and Chris Fearne. If they won’t resign on their own, Abela must remove them.
And let’s not forget those who engineered their own lucrative exits.
Like so many others whose incompetence or questionable behaviour put them in the spotlight of shame, Edward Scicluna has shuffled off to other pastures: another plum job on the public purse. Malta’s reputation isn’t getting any cleaner while the man who turned a blind eye to Electrogas — and who is currently under investigation for his role in the Vitals Global Healthcare debacle — is running the Central Bank. Abela must dismiss him immediately.
When he’s finished firing that Muscat-tainted lot, the prime minister can get busy holding civil servants accountable for their actions. If he’s unsure where to start, I suggest he consult the public inquiry’s report. They’ve given him a helpful list.
But Abela can’t do any of this, can he?
As legal advisor to the disgraced former prime minister and a member of the cabinet deemed culpable in the assassination of a journalist, he’s got his own dirty laundry to hide.
Is the man who ran on a mandate of continuity here to lead, or is he here to make sure certain stones remain unturned?
The only possible reason for Abela to keep squirming on the hook, unable or unwilling to do anything about the problems the inquiry cast a glaring spotlight on, is that it would set off an unstoppable chain reaction of finger pointing rats.
One could be forgiven for wondering just how much dirt each of these people has on the prime minister — and how much dirt no one’s favourite WhatsApp chat buddy has on every one of them.